For Immediate Release, August 22, 2008
Contact: Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Center Halts Illegal Goshawk Guidelines
Threatening 11 Southwestern National Forests;
Forest Service Proves Its Own New Rule Illegal,
Abandons Trial Run Near Flagstaff
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— After a reconsideration forced by environmentalists’ objections, the Coconino National Forest today issued a decision that abandons a controversial new wildlife rule in a timber sale near Flagstaff — the first time the agency tried implementing the new rule, which affects 11 national forests in the Southwest.
The wildlife rule, introduced in 2007 as a regional “implementation guide,” rewrites, weakens and violates a 1996 rule establishing standards and guidelines for all southwest national forest plans guiding management of habitat for northern goshawk and its prey. The 1996 standards and guidelines, drawn up in response to litigation pressed by the Center for Biological Diversity, regulate logging intensity. The new 2007 goshawk guidelines, which would have applied to ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests across Arizona and New Mexico, would have sharply increased large-tree logging and reduced forest canopy to as little as 10 percent.
“The illegal new goshawk guidelines allow logging big trees at the peril of mature forests and wildlife across two states,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, “We’re relieved that the Forest Service’s analysis demonstrated that their own new guidelines are illegal.”
Today’s decision means the Forest Service must abandon the new rule in the first project in which the agency attempted to implement it: the Jack Smith timber sale on the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff. The Forest Service was forced to reanalyze the timber sale following objections by the Center and WildEarth Guardians in 2007. In its reanalysis, the Forest Service concluded it could not lawfully implement the new goshawk guidelines without first changing the 1996 standards and guidelines. In response, the agency abandoned its proposal and the new rule and wrote a new proposal intended to comply with forest-plan standards and guidelines.
“If the new rule can’t be used legally here, it can’t be used in any Arizona or New Mexico national forest,” McKinnon said. “Today’s decision confirms what we’ve been saying for a year now: the new rule is illegal, it would harm public forests and wildlife, and it should be formally withdrawn.”
New guidelines had no public or environmental review
Since the Jack Smith timber sale decision, the agency’s regional silviculturalist who spearheaded the new goshawk guidelines has taken a timber industry job. The silviculturalist, Marlin Johnson, now is seeking approval for logging on tribal lands and the same national forests in which he attempted to ease logging restrictions. E-mails obtained by the Center reveal that Johnson even pushed other Forest Service officials to implement the new guidelines, despite concerns they would violate regional forest plans.
In one exchange, an official stated: “I still worry that some environmental groups can still challenge us on whether we are correctly interpreting forest plan guidelines as they were originally intended.” Johnson replied: “I know there is going to be some worry about the interpretation… Let’s just make sure we do quality NEPA and other analysis on the first ones.”
Under Johnson’s direction, the new goshawk guidelines were developed exclusively by regional Forest Service timber staff in Albuquerque. The process excluded state and federal biologists and sidestepped formal environmental and public review required by the National Environmental Policy Act. In response to Freedom of Information Act requests by the Center, Forest Service records claim that the agency neither offered nor received feedback on draft copies of the rule from state and federal wildlife agencies. But, records obtained through requests to Arizona's Game and Fish Department show that state biologists repeatedly expressed concerns to Forest Service officials over the new rules' impact on wildlife.
The Forest Service’s unilateral approach in this case marks a sharp departure from regional forest policies that encouraged collaboration and cooperation to replace animosity and stalemate in efforts to restore the region’s degraded ponderosa pine forests.
“In a region perilously unable to restore millions of acres of degraded forests, this comes as an astounding distraction that threatens fragile agreements upon which restoration ultimately depends,” McKinnon said.
Jack Smith timber sale still targets big trees
Although the Forest Service abandoned the new goshawk guidelines in the Jack Smith timber sale, the revised plan still would allow logging of an undisclosed number of trees that are more than 24 inches in diameter.
“The irony here is that major restoration industry players and environmentalists agree on the need to protect large trees, and in other parts of the Southwest that agreement is yielding good restoration,” McKinnon said. “But as if a century of mismanaging forests weren’t enough, the Coconino National Forest now stands in the way of those forests’ restoration by insisting on logging big trees.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 180,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.